As a Commonwealth statutory agency, CASA is subject to scrutiny by the Australian Parliament. CASA’s activities may be subject to investigation or consideration by administrative agencies or the courts. In addition, CASA receives informal feedback on its performance through media coverage and through complaints received from industry or members of the public.
CASA welcomes external scrutiny as a means to confirm what it is doing well, and to identify ways to better meet its statutory obligations and achieve its vision in the future.
In October 2011 and February and May 2012, CASA appeared before the Senate Rural Affairs and Transport References Committee. Topics covered during these appearances included: suspension of Tiger Airways Australia; CASA resourcing; low-flying aircraft and wind turbines; cabin crew ratios; ages of wide-bodied aircraft in Australia; A380 wing cracks; Polar Aviation; protocols for memberships of airline lounges; health and safety of airline staff, including fatigue management standards; cabin air contamination; the National Airports Safeguarding Advisory Group; breakdowns of separation; CASA audits and review of Airservices Australia’s overall operations; regulation of flying schools; and airport development issues.
On 24 November 2011, CASA appeared before the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee’s inquiry into the Air Navigation and Civil Aviation Amendment (Aircraft Crew) Bill 2011 and the Qantas Sale Amendment (Still Call Australia Home) Bill 2011.
During the reporting period, CASA took action on 80 ministerial responses and 52 parliamentary questions.
CASA applied to the Federal Court for one prohibition order during the year.
In Civil Aviation Safety Authority v Alligator Airways Pty Ltd (No 3)  FCA 601, Justice Murphy of the Federal Court of Australia granted an application by CASA for a prohibition order under section 30DE(2) of the Civil Aviation Act 1988 (Cth) (the Act) in relation to an Air Operator’s Certificate (authorising charter operations) and Certificate of Approval (to perform maintenance), both held by Alligator Airways Pty Limited (Alligator), following a suspension of those certificates by CASA on 3 May 2012.
CASA pointed to a series of events over a period between 2009 and April 2012 to support its view that there was a systemic problem with Alligator. Of concern was the maintenance and airworthiness of its aircraft, as well as errors made by its pilots. Alligator claimed certain mechanical failures were ‘one off’ or unexpected. Others were ascribed to ‘unforeseeable pilot error’, for which it claimed it was not responsible. It also claimed that some of those pilots had since been made redundant and as such there was no imminent risk to safety.
Justice Murphy was critical of Alligator’s claim that certain errors were ‘one off’ or attributed to pilot error. His Honour stated that Alligator is responsible for the performance of its own employees, and accountable for their failures and omissions. To emphasise this view, His Honour referred to section 97A(2) of the Act, which provides that any failure by an employee is considered conduct by the body corporate, unless it can establish that it took reasonable precautions and exercised due diligence to avoid the error.
The court concluded that, viewed in the context of other incidents, there were reasonable grounds to believe that the problems with maintenance and airworthiness of Alligator’s aircraft were not able to be ‘hand balled’ off to three former employees. Rather, His Honour concluded that the failures of the employees were indicative of Alligator’s failure to properly train and supervise its pilots and maintenance employees and to ensure that its aircraft were properly maintained and airworthy.
In 2011–12, CASA incurred external legal costs from a range of law firms and barristers. A significant proportion of the legal costs paid to the Australian Government Solicitor was for the secondment of an Australian Government Solicitor lawyer. That secondment arrangement has now ended. CASA’s legal costs for 2011–12 are outlined in Table B13 on page 174.
Coroners have the authority to investigate deaths, identify other injuries and make recommendations which may prevent deaths and non-fatal injuries. Coroners’ findings vary from brief descriptions about the place of death, the identity of the deceased and the cause of death, through to detailed descriptions of the circumstances leading to death and detailed recommendations concerning what could be done to prevent similar deaths and injuries. Such recommendations may deal with the administration of aviation safety by CASA.
Table B5 on page 170 shows the number of coronial inquiries that involved CASA in each year from 2007–08 to 2011–12.
Reports by the Auditor-General
In 2011–12, there were no reports tabled by the Australian National Audit Office involving CASA.
Investigations by the Commonwealth Ombudsman
The Ombudsman’s office notified CASA that it intended to commence investigations into seven matters during 2011–12. The Ombudsman’s office received two more complaints during the financial year that it intended to investigate but CASA was not notified of these decisions within the reporting period.
Of the seven matters, two related to a single ongoing investigation by CASA into airworthiness approvals and four related to the progress and determinations of aviation medical certification. The investigations of these matters did not result in a finding of administrative deficiency against CASA. The Ombudsman’s investigation into the other matter highlighted a deficiency in the manner in which CASA communicated with affected stakeholders about a regulatory change. CASA has since taken steps to resolve the matter with the complainant.
The two outstanding matters from 2010–11 were resolved.
Reviews of regulatory decisions
Certain types of regulatory decisions made by CASA are subject to ‘merits review’ by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Merits review involves the reconsideration of an administrative decision. On the facts before it, the tribunal decides whether the correct decision (or, in a discretionary area, the preferable decision) has been made in accordance with the applicable law.
A person who is the subject of a CASA decision may apply directly to the Federal Court for a review of the decision under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977. In some cases, a decision of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal may be reviewed in the Federal Court.
Tables B6 to B8 on pages 171–172 show Administrative Appeals Tribunal merits reviews of regulatory decisions from 2007–08 to 2011–12, the categories of CASA decisions appealed to the tribunal in 2011–12, and applications to the Federal Court for judicial review of regulatory decisions from 2007–08 to 2011–12.
The Industry Complaints Commissioner (ICC) offers industry a transparent and accessible mechanism for making complaints about the conduct of CASA officers. The ICC operates within terms of reference that support a complaint-handling process aimed at resolving problems between members of the industry and CASA officers and ensuring that any deficiencies in CASA’s processes and procedures are identified and rectified.
Complaints in 2011–12
In 2011–12, there was a 10 per cent increase in the number of complaints the ICC investigated about the conduct of CASA officers. This increase positively reflects on the outreach that has been undertaken by the ICC around the country in various presentations to industry members.
As in previous years, most of the complaints related to officers within the Industry Permissions and Operations divisions. Those are the areas in CASA that have the highest levels of interaction with members of the industry. While the proportion of complaints relating to Operations Division remained stable (38 per cent of all complaints to the ICC related to the conduct of staff in the Operations Division in 2011–12; that proportion was 39 per cent in 2010–11), the proportion of complaints relating to the Industry Permissions Division increased from 43 per cent to 53 per cent of all complaints to the ICC.
CASA made a number of changes to its policies and procedures as a result of complaints received by the ICC. For example, there were complaints about the lengthy delays experienced by overseas applicants when corresponding with CASA through the postal system about the requirements and progress of aviation medical applications. These complaints led to CASA’s decision to conduct all ‘pre-grant’ correspondence with applicants by electronic means. The instantaneous communication offered by email now gives applicants extra time to provide additional medical reports and allows the provision of accurate, timely advice about the status of their applications. In addition, a number of other changes were made to the processing of medical applications, including that a decision must be taken in all cases, which enlivens an applicant’s appeal rights—and the refinement of the medical reconsideration process.
Figure 10 shows the breakdown of complaints in 2011–12.
Complaints about the different approaches of regional offices to the issuance of approvals to carry firearms and discharge firearms from aircraft resulted in the development of new policies and procedures, uniform application forms and approval templates and centralised processing, which will be implemented in 2012–13.
The ICC provided training and feedback to inspectors about the way in which they are expected to behave when conducting audits and surveillance. This included one-to-one feedback as part of the complaint investigation process, as well as the delivery of formal training to groups of officers.
CASA deliberately draws on the aviation experience of its staff, which offers a number of advantages for both the regulator and the industry, but which also presents some risks. Those risks are managed through CASA’s conflict of interest policies and procedures.
A number of complaints received during the year highlighted some omissions in the existing framework for managing these risks. As a result, CASA is updating those documents to more thoroughly reflect the current risks posed to CASA as a result of the previous work experience or current entitlements of its staff.
The ICC has taken active steps to reduce the number of out-of-jurisdiction complaints received by the office. Those steps were reflected in the moderate drop in such complaints, from 189 in 2010–11 to 172 in 2011–12. The majority of the complaints related to airline customer service, including the reimbursement of fares, and were referred to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission or the Office of Fair Trading in the state or territory in which the complainant resides.
Forty complainants received effective responses through better whole-of-government cooperation between Australian Government organisations in the aviation sector. Twenty-nine complaints were referred to CASA from another government aviation organisation to which the person had incorrectly initially complained, and 11 were referred by CASA to the correct government organisation. This initiative was launched in 2010–11 to reduce ‘complaint fatigue’ and provide a better customer service experience for complainants.
Figure 10 Complaints in 2011–12